November 14, 1951 (21st Parliament, 5th Session)


Major James William Coldwell

Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (C.C.F.)

Mr. Coldwell:

I remember those days and I made up my mind that I would go into this Saskatchewan river irrigation project. On February 21, 1938, I moved the following resolution:
That, in the opinion of this house, the government should place before parliament at an early date plans, or proposals, for a comprehensive and authoritative survey of water conservation, irrigation possibilities, and other feasible projects for the permanent rehabilitation of the drought stricken area of western Canada and its people.
I well remember that debate and I looked over it again in Hansard during the last day or so. My recollection of that debate is that it received a fairly unsympathetic reception from the government and many hon. members in this house. I remember describing the situation that existed then in the western provinces and being told that I was belittling the province from which I came. I know that Saskatchewan, like Alberta and Manitoba, given the right conditions can produce enormous quantities of new wealth. That has been demonstrated again quite lately.
The history of the prairies warns us that while we may have years like those we have just had, years of bountiful rains, they are always followed by periods of great drought. When I was discussing this resolution in the house I submitted reports that had been made by Palliser and Hind, both of whom had travelled the prairies in the 1850's making surveys of the conditions at that time. From their reports we know that the conditions in the period 1930-38 were not

nearly as bad as the droughts prior to 1858. The records of the trees and of other kinds indicate clearly that from time to time the prairies provinces, particularly that part known as the Palliser triangle, have been subject and will be subject to drought conditions.
Yet in that same Palliser triangle there are two mighty rivers, the North Saskatchewan and the South Saskatchewan, one touching the north and the other cutting across the triangle to the south. In those days of great drought, as the minister and other hon. members from the prairie provinces know, when the land was parched there were millions of cubic feet of water running down those rivers wastefully to lake Winnipeg and on to the sea.
I want to emphasize something the minister said the other evening. He said that the drought conditions that existed from 1930 to 1938 had cost this country $186 million. We are now discussing the building of a dam across the South Saskatchewan river and this, together with at least some of the channels to convey water on to some of the land, will cost approximately $100 million. I say that that is one of the best investments Canada could make. It is one of the best premiums we could pay against the time when we may have to face another drought comparable to that which faced us in the 1930's. It may not come for ten, fifteen or twenty years, but those who have lived on the prairies for fifty or sixty years know that these periods do come.
I remember quite well losing my way one night when driving across the prairies in the constituency represented by the hon. member for Moose Mountain (Mr. Smith). I came to a stone house where I was given shelter for the night by a Mr. Warner who has since passed away. This was during the drought period and in the course of our conversation he told me that shortly after he had established himself on that land, in the early 1880's, a man drove up one night and stayed overnight with him.
There was a pretty dry period at that time and this visitor said that many years before he had camped right in the middle of the nearby lake. Mr. Warner said that that was impossible. The visitor said, "You may think it is impossible, but I did camp right in the middle of the lake and I will show you". It was a bright morning, the water was clear, and they rowed out into the lake and they could see that the bottom was covered with stumps and roots of trees. There was at least some evidence to show that there had been many years before a prolonged drought when
The Address-Mr. Coldwell it seemed some bush had grown in what had been the bottom of a dry lake, but that once more water came with wetter years. I say that the South Saskatchewan river scheme is most necessary, and at the same time may become one of the most profitable investments that this country has ever made. I should like to quote from what I said on a former occasion, as recorded at page 638 of Hansard of February 21, 1938, as follows:
Hence it is not a question of large quantities of water, but of being able to deliver at the right time to the growing crops the comparatively small amount of water often required. For this purpose I believe there is sufficient water in the rivers and streams of western Canada.
I went on to say:
A friend of mine last summer, when the days were hot, stood near Saskatchewan Landing-
That is where the bridge has recently been built.
-and watched the South Saskatchewan, incidentally lower than usual, roll by. He told me that the river was in flood-not a great flood such as we have known in the past, but comparatively in flood-at a much higher level than normal last year, and flowing at about eight miles per hour in a channel one quarter of a mile wide. He estimated that if the water were diverted it would cover many sections of land one foot deep within twenty-four hours.
I do not think you need water one foot deep, but he was computing it on the flow of the water and the level of the land in the plain at that point. I continue:

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